When Helen Gerardi was born, World War I had begun less than two years before, the Ford Model T was the most popular car in the country, and commercial television broadcasting was still decades away.
Probably no one in her family envisioned that this baby girl would someday be the matriarch of a family that would include four children, nine grandchildren, and five great grand children.
But there Gerardi was in early June this year, surrounded by family and friends, celebrating her 99th birthday, all of them spent in Bayonne.
“Everybody came. They were all here. They had a good time,” said caregiver Judith Cameron.
Born June 10, 1916, in Staten Island, N.Y., Gerardi’s life as a New Yorker would last only a couple of months, until she, her father, mother, and three sisters moved to Bayonne, where she would stay the rest of her life.
Gerardi attended St. Mary’s School and Holy Family Academy, a school she has outlasted, before meeting her late husband, Anthony, in a Bayonne candy store where she worked. Their courtship, and then a wedding at St. Mary’s Church in 1934, followed. Her marriage to Tony lasted 47 years.
Gerardi and her husband ran their own Broadway candy store, and she remembers selling candy for a penny apiece. She recalls happy summer forays to Wildwood with Tony and their children. Her husband died in 1981.
And though Gerardi has been without her mate for 34 years, she is buoyed by the legion of loved ones who visit her on a regular basis.
Not one to sleep in; Gerardi wakes every morning at 7. From that point, it’s on to daily pastimes, such as reading newspapers, playing cards, or figuring out the multitude of puzzles she has completed throughout the years. She also knitted until she was 98.
Listening to Irish music and watching Wheel of Fortune are also high on her list.
Though still mobile, she needs the help of a walker. The highlight of each day is sitting on the porch of her Broadway home and watching children head home from school.
Sharp as they come, and with a sense of humor, Gerardi is proud that she was physically active into her late 80s.
“I used to shovel snow,” she said. “I had a man across the street who wanted to help me. I told him I can do it myself.”
Secrets to long life
When asked about what the secrets are to a long life, Gerardi did not pause.
“Potatoes and bread,” she said.
“She loves potatoes,” said granddaughter Jeanette Hogan. “She says that is why she has lived this long, because she eats potatoes every day.” She’s fond of pizza and cookies too.
Having a full and satisfying breakfast, her only real meal of the day, comes in a close second as a lifestyle strategy.
But refraining from drinking and smoking over the years was vital to her longevity.
“That’s what I tell people,” Gerardi said. “I didn’t drink or smoke.”
She also swears by a good night’s sleep. In bed by 9 each night, she needs only a short 3:30 p.m. nap to recharge her batteries.
Gerardi understands that her run has been and continues to be a great one.
Joseph Passantino may be reached at JoePass@hudsonreporter.com.To comment on this story online visit www.hudsonreporter.com.